Flacco keeping his eye on the ball

OWINGS MILLS -- The education of Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco received an unexpected boost due to a postponed game caused by Hurricane Ike. Instead of making his second NFL start on the road against the Houston Texans, Flacco has had extra time to prepare for Sunday's kickoff against the Cleveland Browns.

For the Ravens (1-0), it's an opportunity to accelerate the learning process of their first-round draft pick as he takes on the reeling Browns (0-2) at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I think any time you get more practice under your belt you benefit from it," Flacco said. "I think playing another game on Sunday I would have benefited from that, but obviously we didn't get to play.

"You can look at it in a couple of different ways, and I'm going to look at it like it was a good thing. I'm going into my second game as prepared as I can be. It should be a good time to go out there and play our second game in front of the home crowd and hopefully add another win."

In a 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in his NFL debut to open the season, Flacco completed 15 of 29 passes for 129 yards with no interceptions or fumbles. He scrambled 38 yards for a touchdown on a play he audibled to and delivered a key block on wide receiver Mark Clayton's touchdown run.

Plus, Flacco had roughly five passes dropped, including a potential touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap.

Among the things Flacco has been diligently working on is recognizing his hot reads, improving his accuracy on short and intermediate throws and reducing velocity on shorter patterns to make it easier for receivers to catch the football.

"I can get better in every area of my game," Flacco said. "From two Sundays ago to the end of my career, I want to be getting better each week and learning something new each week.

"Once we get out there this Sunday, it's not going to go perfect. There are going to be things to learn from and there are going to be hard times to fight through, but I expect us to overcome those kinds of things."

One of the biggest topics heading into last week's originally scheduled game against Houston was how Flacco would handle the pressure of a noisy Reliant Stadium crowd along with the pass rush of Texans star defensive end Mario Williams.

Flacco's first road game will be a Sept. 29 Monday night contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a nationally-televised game.

"You can catalog the plusses of the situation, and that's what we've tried to do now," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's one, the fact that Joe gets an extra week of practice before his second game."

For another week, Flacco will be playing in a friendly environment where fans chanted his name in approval a few weeks ago.

"I think it helps him out a lot," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "He was well prepared to play last week, but he's had an added week to really analyze their defense and see where the weak spots are, if there are any, in that defense. It gives him another week to mature as a player under this system.

"So, anytime you can get a surprise value like this, especially for a young quarterback, it works wonders. Now, he doesn't have to get his second start on the road in front of a hostile audience. Now, he gets his second start back here at home with a more appreciative audience. I'm looking for Joe to do well this game as he did the first game."

The Browns might not present the most difficult challenge for Flacco considering they have the NFL's 28th-ranked defense.

They're allowing 384 yards per game with opposing quarterbacks completing 70.6 percent of their throws for 506 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 107.1 passer rating.

The Browns have only registered three sacks and no forced fumbles.

Flacco is hoping to join John Elway and Ryan Leaf in going 2-0 as a rookie and avoid the setback experienced last week by fellow first-round quarterback Matt Ryan. The Atlanta Falcons rookie won his first start, but regressed in his second game with two interceptions while going 13 for 33 for 158 yards in a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Despite the Browns' defensive struggles, it's still a matter of adjusting to the speed of the game for Flacco after excelling at the Division I-AA level.

"From the very beginning, I've never really felt like I've been trying to catch up with it," Flacco said. "I've been trying to downplay it a little bit and go out there and play football. That's all everybody wants to talk about, the speed of the game.

"It's true, the speed of the game is obvious, but the last thing I want to do is go out there and let that be on my mind. I want to go out there and downplay the speed and just tell myself that it's just football and that's going to be the best thing for me."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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